The Time-Line of Christmas – VII, “The Test of Joseph”, Part 1

December 18, 2013

Based on Matthew 1:18-25

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Joseph sat stunned on a rough bench.  Wood shavings were on the floor, fallen from the handles of a plow on which he had been working.  His mind whirled with thoughts.  “How could it be?  How could this have happened?

Mary stood on the other side of the plow, the light from the open window and door shown on her lovely but anxious face.  “Please, Joseph, listen to me!  It’s true!”  But her words seemed far away and empty to him.

How could it be?”  Just three months before – a few weeks after his fondest dreams had come true, that he would have Mary – young, beautiful Mary for his wife – she went away.  It happened so suddenly, no hint it was coming.  She simply told him she was going to her aged cousin Elizabeth’s for awhile.  Miracle of miracles, Elizabeth – the one called barren – was pregnant!  And she was well past the age of childbearing!  But Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias lived in the hill country of Judah, almost 90 miles south – a very long trip for Mary, even if she was to be accompanied by Nazareth friends going to Jerusalem.

Joseph had waited patiently for her return, with hardly a word from her these past three months.  He thought the silence strange.  They had always been so open with each other.  But never, never had he suspected this….

Joseph, listen to me.  I don’t know how else to say it.  It is so hard to believe it….”  Mary’s features showed the stress.

Joseph stared blankly.  “Believe it?  Believe it?”  The thought shouted in his mind.  How could he believe it?!  How could Mary do such a thing – so sweet and pure and innocent?  She had come through the door of his shop not half an hour before.  He looked up from his work and was overjoyed to see his beloved.  “Mary, you’re back!”  But something was amiss.  She stood with her eyes cast down, not meeting his gaze.  “What’s wrong, dear one?

Mary lifted her head, looked into his eyes, and softly told him, “Joseph, I am with child.

No other words could have had the same effect.  He felt his legs go weak, and he sat down heavily on the bench.  He remembered vaguely that she had said something about an angel as he sat there, something about the Holy Spirit and the Son of God.  But Mary – pregnant!  His Mary….!

Joseph, you’ve got to listen!”  Mary was crying.  “An angel did come, three months ago, and told me I was to bear a son.  I was frightened at his appearance.  He said the Holy Spirit would come upon me with the power of the Highest, and I would conceive.  He …he said the child would be the Son of God, and that we should call His name Jesus, and He would be God’s Son, and He would be King on David’s throne, and His kingdom wouldn’t end, and…and…  Joseph?!!

Oh, Mary, how could you do this?  I trusted you so!”  Tears were now coursing their paths through the sawdust on Joseph’s cheeks.

But Joseph, it’s true!” wailed Mary.  “You’ve got to believe me!”  She sat down heavily on the work stool by the plow handles.

Oh, how I love her even now!” thought Joseph, moved with compassion at the sight of his beloved in tears.

He stood and stepped around the plow.  “Mary…I do believe you,” but the words almost caught in his throat.  She was sobbing now, head buried in her hands.  He went to put a comforting hand on her shoulder.  But the thought returned with all its horror – Mary’s pregnant!  And his hand jerked back involuntarily as a sick feeling swept over him.

Mary….”  She looked up, her face wet with tears.  His voice was stern.  “Mary, you are in no condition to talk about this now.  It’s been a long journey from your cousin’s.  Go home and rest.  We will talk tomorrow – early.

She stood up, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.  “You do believe me, don’t you, Joseph?” she asked.  “It was all so much, so confusing.  I had to get away for awhile and think.  Elizabeth was very helpful and all, but sometimes it’s still so….  Oh, Joseph, I’m scared!”  More tears.

He led her to the door.  “Go home and rest, Mary.  We will talk tomorrow.

Alright, Joseph. But you do believe me, don’t you?

I believe you, Mary.”  His words sounded hollow to him.  “Now go.  Tomorrow we will talk.

Mary looked up at him longingly.  Then she pulled her shawl over to hide her tear-stained face and left.

Joseph watched her walk away, his mind a blank.  She turned the corner and was gone.  Slowly he came back into the shop.  It was getting late now and shadows began to creep in.  “Too dark to work now,” he said aloud.  “But I have no desire to work anyway.

Oh, Mary, Mary!  How could you do this to me?”  He sank down on the work stool, his head in his hands.  All this about the Holy Spirit and the Son of God!  And an angel!  He had heard about the strange happenings at the temple in Jerusalem almost a year before.  And angel had visited Zacharias, and Elizabeth has become pregnant.  Now, apparently, she had given birth to a son – John.  But before that it had been so long since God had spoken!  The nasi – the president of the synagogue – had said it was over 400 years since God spoke through the prophet Malachi.  But Mary…his Mary!  How could it be?  She was so young – only 15 – and so innocent.  She was pure.  She was a virgin…!  Suddenly Joseph sat straight.  In his mind he was listening to the reader in the synagogue:

    Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, the virgin shall
    conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. 1

What scroll was it?  Why from the prophet Isaiah, of course!  And it was concerning the promised Messiah, so the rabbis said.  Could it be….?  “I don’t know, I don’t know,” he exclaimed, rising to his feet.  He laid down the chisel he had been holding since Mary came in, and slowly walked back to his living quarters at the rear of the carpenter shop.  He stooped over the small basin and gathered water in his hands to splash the sawdust and shavings off his face and arms.  Drying off, he thought of supper, but he had no appetite.  Wearily he sat on his sleeping mat and tried to think it all through.

What were all those things he had been taught concerning the Messiah?  He went to the synagogue regularly, and he had as good an education as any peasant boy growing up in Nazareth.   But the thoughts of his mind whirled – especially after Mary…!  He was a carpenter, not a rabbi!  

Joseph sat a long time as shadows lengthened and darkness fell.  His mind had slowed and thoughts came more clearly.  “Let’s see, even Moses spoke of a great prophet to come.

    The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst,
    from your brethren.  Him you shall hear…. 2

The rabbis taught this applied to God’s Messiah.  King David had written down God’s promises to him:

    And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. 
    Your throne shall be established forever. 3

Mary was a descendant of David through his son Nathan, so her child would be of David’s house.  Even he, Joseph, was of David’s line through King Solomon.  What had Mary said the angel told her?  “He would be King on David’s throne.”  A shudder ran along his spine as he heard in his mind the nasi read from the Isaiah scroll:

    For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will
    be upon His shoulder.  And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
    Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His
    government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and
    over His kingdom to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from
    that time forward, even forever. 4

By heavens,” exclaimed Joseph, “There are so many promises in just that one prophecy!  I never realized before how staggering it all is!  How could God come down and live among us?  And all through my Mary?  No!  It’s too much!”  He involuntarily threw up his hand in front of his face as if to ward off a blinding light.  “No!” he shouted into the dark.

1  Isaiah 7:14
2  Deuteronomy 18:15
3  II Samuel 7:16
4  Isaiah 9:6, 7

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